Donnerstag, 29. Mai 2014

Short takes

"Maleficent" has exactly one moment of glory, when Disney's most famous villain interrupts a stately ceremony and, in an emerald storm of fury, casts a spell on the newborn princess. The cradle, the needle, the baby and the caped slender figure... it's iconic fairytale imagery conjured into life with uncanny precision and unapologetic fanfare, a goosebumps-worthy high that the rest of the movie sadly never reaches again. Its biggest mistake lies in the misguided need to humanize/heroize the title character, which not only compromises her mythic appeal but practically chops off the wings of Angelina Jolie, who does evil like no other. Director Robert Stromberg opts for a loud, minutely CG-ed aesthetic for the film, which, while not as ugly as Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland", rarely gets the feel of a timeless tale right. When a movie about the baddest witch out there is so sanitized it takes a Lana Del Rey song in the credits to kick up the creepy factor, you know an opportunity has been missed.

"Tom à la ferme (Tom at the Farm)" has an instantly attractive premise in the exploration of deception and its many emotional byproducts. When identities are confused and motives left unsaid, such forceful instincts as grief, rage, desire become all the more volatile and dangerously seductive. Too bad, then, that the plot lacks a convincing second act and an appropriately explosive finale, so all that build-up ultimately doesn't have anywhere to go. The movie's still highly watchable, if only as a disturbing mood piece. Canadian director Xavier Dolan keeps his penchant for splashy visual pizazz under control and operates here on a stripped look that, combined with his deft hand at close-range human observation, puts a blunt, chilly focus on the tension depicted. Maestro Gabriel Yared's music proves to be an unexpected misfire, its sensual cues too obvious and the way it's used shows about as much restraint as a Hong Kong zombie flick from the 80's.

"Edge of Tomorrow" starts off rather unspectacularly and on the whole feels long, due in no small part to the repetitive nature of its central conceit. But high-minded sci-fi movies like this do pack that extra level of satisfaction once you get past the initial feeling of foreignness and into their particular groove. However insensibly it demands you to think, once you're ready to consider the characters' plight using their bent logic, fun is to be had. Director Doug Liman acquits himself admirably describing the mundane horror of someone having to relive the same day over and over to figure out the flaw in the alien's world domination plan. Every editing choice he makes is mindful of its narrative function and he seldom misses a beat. The movie also boasts numerous furiously choreographed and shot action sequences. While the set design for exterior Paris is subpar, that final battle scene has scale, speed, intensity and style, a pure blast to watch.

"Stereo" tries to be fresh by taking familiar elements from established genre traditions and mixing them up. But the script is neither clever nor ambitious enough to hide the tired taste of recycled formulas or to elevate the picture fully above a weeknight TV-thriller. German writer/director Maximilian Erlenwein does manage to keep things interesting thoughout by the employment of heavily filtered lenses and a heightend color scheme that makes everything look deliciously dirty. The sound design is even more lascivious, cranking out all kinds of delightfully sordid, aggressively techno noises that wouldn't be out of place in Berghain. The cast does a respectable job holding things down as the movie goes into visual and aural overdrive. Lead actor Jürgen Vogel has the rare gift of appearing both menacing and fragile, giving the somewhat implausibly drawn character a more nuanced portrayal than it probably deserves.

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